Nine tips for writing effective direct marketing copy

Source: Target Marketing

During a recent lunch with an up-and-coming copywriter named Katie, she asked me for my No. 1 copywriting tip when it comes to direct marketing. Whoa, just one? Impossible. And we didn’t have time for a two-hour brown bag seminar, so ... I promised I’d devote this column to the topic.

Here are nine of my favorite tips to create a roadmap for copywriters. Whether you’re new or experienced ... B-to-C or B-to-B ... sell hard goods or generate leads for intangibles, this column’s for you. (I’ve used this same roadmap to sell everything from hog sperm and bloodletting chairs to burial insurance, designer sweaters, PVC piping and chocolate. Tons of chocolate.)

1. Your Objective: Know Where You’re Going
What’s the upfront goal for your copy? Is it a phone call, a click to a landing page, mailing in a response or visiting a store? This is your call to action (CTA).

Know how your CTA fits into the “Big Picture” — aka business objective. Are you collecting data for future marketing? Making a direct sale? Building a base of followers? Generating qualified leads? Before you write copy, make sure you understand the business objective.

2. Your Audience: Meet Your Driver
Your targeted audience is the driver of everything you write. Make him or her your new best friend; if not forever, at least for the duration of your assignment. Gather demographics, psychographics, propensity to respond, buying objections and anything else you need to know to connect with this person.

Match this list to someone you know — a real person — who fits the description. Then create a copy conversation with this individual. It’s much easier to write to a real person than a marketing persona or group of nameless, faceless people. I call this the “Alice Wiens Approach” to writing copy.

3. Your Product or Service: Take the Road Less-Traveled
Start with the product information from your marketing team, merchandisers, product developers and engineers. But don’t stop there. Be on the lookout for little-known facts that separate your product from the competition’s.

Interview customers, salespeople and customer service staffers. Do competitive research. Read customer reviews. Try the product yourself. Gather details from many different angles. It’s better to have more information than not enough. Then prioritize based on your audience.

4. Offer: Why Should I Go There?
Too often, marketers (and copywriters) stop thinking about the offer after shouting, “FREE SHIPPING!” They think that’s all you need to say to get people to act. But copywriters who generate response know offers are more than just free shipping.

Your offer is everything you’re willing to give in exchange for response. It answers the question, “Why should I do this?” It also addresses buying objections and positions your brand. Make a list of everything included in your offer, then pick and choose the elements most likely to motivate your audience. This includes deadlines, a guarantee, limited anything, free whitepaper, response options, shipping options, free sample, free trial, live chat, customer reviews
and more.

5. Features vs. Benefits: Avoid Detours
Understand the difference between features and benefits, then focus on the latter. Features describe (and detour you from the good stuff). Benefits sell. They answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” It’s the old adage: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

Tip: Engineers and product developers love to talk about features and product specifications. Don’t let them leave the room without helping you understand the benefit every feature provides your targeted audience.

6. Scanners vs. Readers: Follow the Signs
Every word written doesn’t get read. It’s more likely to get scanned — in seconds. But when a scanner connects with what we’ve written, the momentum builds for a click or call.
Make it easy for scanners to engage quickly with your copy. Provide signage that’s fast and easy to follow:

  • headlines
  • subheads
  • bullets
  • call-outs
  • photo captions
  • sidebars
  • Johnson boxes

7. Self-editing: Ditch Unnecessary Baggage
Edit after you’ve set your copy aside. Pronouns such as I, we, he and she are unnecessary baggage. (So is the word that.) People rarely read blah-blah-blah copy starting with a corporate we. On the other hand, the word you connects immediately with your reader.

Use you twice as often as I or we in marketing messages. And steer clear of referring to your audience in the third person. It’s an easy edit to replace he, she and they with you.

Before: We know from experience that every client is unique and deserves a retirement plan tailored to his or her individual situation, goals and objectives.

After: You’re unique. You deserve a retirement plan tailored for you and your goals. You’ve come to the right place to get started.

8. Hot Spots: Give a Guided Tour
You don’t want your scanner/reader to miss the main attractions, do you? Don’t leave anything to chance. Team up with your designer to create hot spots that guide your scanner to key selling points, major benefits and offer elements.

Move benefits to the front of sentences, paragraphs, subject lines, teasers and preheaders. Use type fonts, color, images, violators and Johnson boxes to attract attention. Put your most important copy in these hot spots, including your CTA.

Carbonite email with multiple calls to action9. Call to Action: Your Final Destination
Before digital, direct mail’s rule of thumb was to include the CTA someplace — at least once — on every mailing component. In today’s digital world, placement of your CTA and what you say in it are more than just housekeeping details.

The CTA needs to stop the scanner and provide a compelling reason to respond. If your copy scrolls, you need to include more than one CTA. And there’s no law saying your CTA must read LEARN MORE or READ MORE. Promise to deliver a benefit and you’ll get more clicks. For example: “Send FREE eCards,” “Show Me My Heatmap” or “Save 30%.”